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NorWesCon 24 report

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The 24th Northwest Science Fiction Convention (NorWesCon) was a lot of fun. The annual Tai-Pan furry party was also a success. This is my 15th year in a row to attend this Seattle-Tacoma area convention, and among the group I usually room-share with are a couple of people who have been attending this con for twenty years, so I am a teeny bit biased.

This year's writer Guest of Honor was Connie Willis, the hugo-winning author of The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, among others. Ms. Willis is witty, articulate, and just fun to listen to. I was quite happy to attend several panels spotlighting her, and to hear a chapter from her forthcoming book. If you haven't read her stuff, you should. Particuarly anyone who has ever been owned by a cat, or lived with someone who was owned by a cat, should read To Say Nothing of the Dog, (though the cats are subplots, they're still fun subplots you don't want to miss).

NorWesCon is a three-and-a-half-day general sci-fi convention. Programming begins late Thursday afternoon with a small selection of panels before the first dance of the Con. NorWesCon has four dances, one each night, each with a different theme and DJ.

Michael (MierTam), Sky, and I checked into the hotel a little after 4:00 and got settled into our room. We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to pry our friend Jeff, who is the second-in-command of "Member Services" out of Registration. Eventually we gathered a group together for dinner. The convention hotel has recently changed its restaraunts, eliminating one entirely. What used to be a mid-priced eatery was now the fancy dinning room. We all agreed that the food was very good, but a bit too pricey to eat any more con meals there. Most of our usual gang retired back to Mike's, Sky's, and my room to watch DVDs and plot the rest of our con.

Friday morning I went home, briefly--Sky needed to run home and feed his cat, and I had forgotten a few things at the house, so I rode tagged along with Sky. When we got back we learned that Keith had gotten our party registered, so I put up party posters at all the approved locations for posting such things and did a quick run through the Dealer's Room. The weather was pretty nice, so I took my sketchbook out to the poolside and worked on my homework for about an hour. We met up back at the room then several people decided to go with me to a panel on colonizing asteroids vs. planets. It was a pretty good panel, although the full three-camera video system the con employed to record panels this year was more than a bit intrusive. They had full studio lights, which made the rooms uncomfortably warm. The technicians, talking to each other via their little headsets systems, was more than a little distracting, and the panelists kept assuming that the little microphones in front of them should be amplifying their voices. Otherwise the panel was a lot of fun. We retired to the hotel bar for dinner -- the bar serves large pizzas for only $12, they're very good pizzas and have been the same price for some years now. After dinner and a perusal of the evening schedule, we decided to go back to Keith's room to watch more DVDs. Michael, as usual, spent most of the evening wandering the con, finding parties and such, and apparently went swimming at about three am.

Saturday morning we weren't able to coordinate our schedules at all, so I hit the cheap hotel breakfast buffet (7.95 all you can eat), then got in line to get a couple of my Connie Willis books signed. Our gang met up again at Ms. Willis's interview. She was thoroughly delightful. This was my first attempt to take notes at a panel using my new Visor, so I didn't get as many great quotes as usual, but there were a few gems. "If you want to have good last words you should write them now and start practicing, otherwise you're going to say something silly like, 'My side hurts,' or 'The murderer's name is argh,' or something." -- in reference to the quotations used in her forthcoming book about near death experiences in which she begins each chapter with a quotation of someone's last words. "People in the middle ages weren't noble-- they were just as stupid and moronic and fad-driven as we are. The good news is, while the human race as a whole may be moronic and hoepless, we're no more moronic and hopeless then we've ever been." -- after discussing the research she had done into fashions and fads for some of her time travel novels. "A novelist's primary obligation is to try to tell the truth. Given that a novel is a big lie, that's a pretty neat trick. And a big part of the truth is admitting what you don't know." "You have an obligation to write an entertaining story that people want to read." -- on writing.

After the interview I had to start carting stuff from our room to Keith's room, where the Tai-Pan party would be. Keith and Juli cleaned the room before I got there with the first armloads of chips. While we schlepped the back issues and junk food, Mark filled the ice chest and got the sodas chilled. All party rooms this year were placed in the parts of the hotel which were furthest out from the main tower. The last time we were stuck out there it took a while for the crowd to trickle in, just because it was so far and the building layout is a bit confusing. This year, folks started showing up early. We had a slightly smaller crowd than last year, owing as much to the difficulty getting to the room as anything. There were some good sketchbook swaps. We had a great game of "Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond," in which Keith managed to win after several rounds of reshuffling by killing only one spy and taunting him with three doublers. I won't try to list everyone who showed up at the party, because I will surely forget someone if I try. As usual, we kept the room open through the broadcast of the masquerade over the the con's TV channels. They had a lot of technical difficulties and only thirteen entries in the entire masquerade. Once the masquerade was over, we closed down the party and went to dinner.

We spent part of the dinner passing around a napkin trying to compose some circular poetry. Then most of the gang went back to Keith's room to watch Princess Mononoke on DVD. I dragged Michael off to the Star Dance where I forced him (practically at gunpoint) to dance. I only got three and a half-dances out of him. The Saturday Night Star Dance used to be my favorite. As I've gotten older, they play less music that I actually want to dance to. But there was a good crowd and we were there for the traditional midnight Time Warp, so I was happy. We wandered the con some more until I couldn't keep my eyes open. Sky was already crashed when I got to the room. I slept so soundly, I didn't wake up when Michael crawled into bed around 5:00 am.

We woke up Sunday morning to discover that the Easter Bunny had arrived and dropped off some very cute bunnies and candy for Michael and Sky. We packed up and loaded our stuff into the cars, then met the rest of the gang for another round of the $7.95 all-you-can-eat buffet. Sky had to head home to take care of his cat. The rest of us cruised the dealer's room and did other time-killing things until Ms. Willis's reading at 1:00. The first chapter of her new book is quite compelling, and I won't be able to wait for the paperback. I have to know what happens next, so I'll be hitting bookstores May 1 looking for Passage.

Keith, Mark, Michael, and I went to turn in our registration for next year's con. We stopped off in Hospitality for a soda, and learned that people were still talking about the Klingon Karaoke from the night before. It sounded quite funny, so if they do it again next year, I'll have to try to catch it. Michael and I headed over to the "The Future of Science Fiction" panel, only to discover most of our gang already in attendance. The panelists included authors Connie Will and James Hogan, editor David Hartwell, and Locus-publisher Charles Brown. It was a two-hour panel, but the conversation was very lively and worth every minute. We then all trooped over to the "Onions & Roses" session where con-goers are allowed to tell the con com what they liked and didn't about the con. Michael wanted to go because he was quite annoyed at the video-taping set-up. But it was Julie, the one member of our group who had least wanted to go to the thing, who thought up about a dozen suggestions for the con com.

One of the largest points of controversy at this year's convention was the Alternate Sexuality Track of programming. The controversary was not that they have such a track or that there is too much of it. On the contrary, one of the complaints was that, while 18 alternative sexuality panels were listed in the large convention book, only 12 were on the actual schedule. The other six were removed because the panelists withdrew in protest of the convention's plan to video tape all of the alternate sex panels for use in the convention's public access cable show. And therein lies the second controversy. Two months before the convention, word leaked out that a person who produces documentaries on pornography and porn production, was donating a lot of video equipment and trained operators to tape panels for the show. That wasn't a problem, but while they would only be taping about a quarter of the science, writing, art, costuming, and similar panels, they planned to tape all but one of the alternate sexuality panels. Several people interested in the panels or planning to be panelists were concerned about what might happen if out-of-context tape fell into the wrong hands. The topic completely took over the convention's e-mail list for two months prior to the con. In the end, so many panelists withdrew, that six of the panels had to be cancelled.

Brief Soapbox Sidenote: One reason I have always been amused at the people who get upset about certain activities at furry cons is because I see a lot more sex and sexuality at general sci fi cons than I have ever seen at a furry con, or heard horror stories about at a furry con. There were more people wandering the halls of NorWesCon in bondage and fetish gear than the total attendance of some furry cons. Many general sci fi cons have these entire tracks of programming devoted to bondage, polyamorous relationships, et cetera, et cetera. I can't count how many people I saw wearing collars and other bondage geear and being led around by someone else who was holding the leash--in public spaces at a large science fiction con. And at several other science fiction cons I have been to.

NorWesCon was, once again, a great convention. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in science fiction, fantasy, or anime.


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Since writing the report above, I've learned of a person attending the Tai-Pan party who was unhappy with the party. The specific complaint was that he was asked to draw in three people's sketch books, but no one would draw in his.
This seems like a good excuse to remind people about sketch book ettiquette: if you ask someone to draw in your sketch book, you should offer some compensation. And don't forget to send the artist a copy of the sketch.

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Rich Chandler still has a copy of his sketchbook etiquette file on his webpage. It's worth looking at.

By the way, sounds like one heck of a fun convention! I haven't read any of Ms. Willis' novels, although I've read a couple of her Hugo-winning novellas (or novelettes. I always get the forms mixed up). She's an excellent writer.

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